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Season Preview: Baseball eyes first NCAA tournament appearance

Season Preview: Baseball eyes first NCAA tournament appearance

WASHINGTON – The Gallaudet University baseball team made team history last year when the Bison won a share of the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) regular-season title and earned the top seed and hosted the conference tournament at Hoy Field. Even though the Bison came up short in tournament play and missed a chance to earn its first-ever NCAA tournament bid the team came away with invaluable experience it hopes to use to its advantage in 2014.

"I believe that we have just as good a chance of winning the NEAC as any other team in our conference [this season]," said Gallaudet coach Curtis Pride, who enters his sixth season. "All we need to do is perform up to our potential offensively and take a good care of the ball defensively."

The Bison are loaded with veterans this season as they return seven seniors and four juniors. Out of the 21 players on the roster only seven are new to the program. This year's senior class was Pride's second recruiting class when he arrived at Gallaudet.

"This senior class has been important to me because of their experience and leadership.  They have been through it all from setting records for the most wins in a season, upsetting a Top 25 team, to being upset in the conference championship," said Pride. "They have really helped move this program in the direction I envisioned when I accepted this position.  I am extremely proud of these guys for the way they handle themselves both on and off the field and especially in the classroom. They have set good examples for the younger guys. All I want is nothing more than seeing this group winning the conference championship and making it into the NCAA tournament. They deserve it."

Pitching

Junior Brandon Holsworth (Beal City, Mich.), the reigning NEAC Pitcher of the Year and all-conference first team pitcher, will be the ace of the staff going into the 2014 season. The 6-foot-5 right-hander posted a 5-5 record in 11 games started as he logged 78.1 innings where he allowed 38 runs (28 earned), struck out 52 batters and walked 29.

"Brandon had a great year last year, winning Conference Pitcher of the Year. He has worked extremely hard in the offseason and is very motivated to be one of the best pitchers in all of Division III this year," said Pride. "He just needs to stay consistent throughout the whole season."

Behind Holsworth is transfer Danny O'Donnell (Olney, Md.) a sophomore right-hander who played at George Washington University last season where he saw action in 11 games and pitched 28.1 innings and had six strikeouts. Senior Marcus Smith (Baltimore, Md.) started eight games last year on the mound and pitched in 13 games. Smith hopes to bounce back and regain the form he had in 2012 where he was an all-conference first team pitcher. Fellow senior Chris Guinn (McLoud, Okla.) started 10 games and went 3-4 for the Bison last season, as he was second on the team with 33 strikeouts. The lone lefty is freshman Ian Evans (Murphy, N.C.), who will also see playing time at first base.

"I like our starting rotation," said Pride. "We added another quality arm in Danny, a Division I pitcher, who will help us a lot. Marcus has been working hard trying to get back to his old form and we hope Chris continues to pitch like he did last year. If that happens we will win a lot of games."

In the bullpen, the Bison will have many options to choose from this season. Senior right-hander Tyler Crace (Westfield, Ind.) is an imposing figure at 6-foot-6 and an experienced arm for Coach Pride. Crace pitched in 18 games last season and pitched 29.2 innings. Other returners include sophomores Zach Kohler (Union City, Calif.), Hayden Shock (Burke, Va.), juniors Orion Palmer (Riverside, Calif.) and Steven Gosselin (Hayward, Calif.). Kohler, Shock and Palmer combined to pitch over 22 innings in relief for Gallaudet last season. Freshmen Blake Phillips (Dalton, Ga.), Matt Taylor (Auburn, Kan.) and sophomore Ben Coleman (St. Paris, Ohio) are new to the team this season but will play a vital role on the mound and in the field.

"Phillips and Evans have the ability to be big surprises for us on the mound," said Pride. "They both have quality arms and will pitch quite a bit this season."

Infield

A key part of Gallaudet's infield last year was Tommy Barksdale, who graduated after a star-studded four-year career with the Bison. Barksdale led the Bison in many offensive categories last year en route to earning ABCA All-South Region honors and earning his third All-NEAC selection. Pride will turn to his veterans to head up the infield led by senior catcher Casey Hicks (Henderson, Nev.) and senior infielder JJ Klein (Cincinnati, Ohio), Guinn at third base and junior second/third baseman Mitchell Bensman (Russia, Ohio). Hicks and Guinn were All-NEAC second team selections last season. Hicks batted .256 and had 34 hits, seven doubles, five triples, 10 stolen bases and 26 RBI. Guinn batted .277 and had 36 hits, nine doubles, one triple, two home runs and 24 RBI. Klein, a CoSIDA Academic All-District first team honoree, batted over .300 at the plate and scored 35 runs, collected 46 hits and had nine doubles and two triples as he drove in 19 runs. Bensman batted .281 as he posted 34 hits, 19 runs, three doubles, one triple and 19 RBI. Freshman Justin Strong (Charlotte, N.C.) will start at first base while Phillips will start at shortstop. Sophomore Chase Magsig (Hudsonville, Mich.) will spell Phillips at short when needed and senior Jeremy Murphy (Owings Mills, Md.) and Evans will see time at first. Freshman Zack Crawford (Newnan, Ga.) will also see time at the hot corner.

Outfield

Senior centerfielder William Bissell (Brewer, Maine) is back 100 percent healthy, after being sidelined most of last season with an injury, and looks to regain his All-American form he displayed in 2011 and 2012. Last season, he started 24 games where he batted .357, recorded 30 hits, 16 runs, three triples, two home runs, drove in 22 and swiped four bases.

"Billy is back to his old form and is ready for a great year," said Pride. "He is more motivated than ever to perform well especially after missing the majority of last season. I predict he will have a monster season."

Starting alongside Bissell will be Magsig and Smith. Klein, Taylor, a starter on the football team, and Coleman, a standout on the men's basketball team, will see action in the outfield.

Schedule

The season opens at home as the Bison host the first seven games of the season including doubleheaders against Muhlenberg College (Feb. 23) and Valley Forge Christian College (Mar. 1). The team then travels for a game at Shenandoah University (Mar. 2) before coming back home to host Catholic University of America (Mar. 5). GU heads to Waldorf, Md., to face-off against Rivier (Mar. 7) at the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs Stadium. That game is followed by a home contest against Baptist Bible (Pa.) College. The Bison then hit the road for a tough game against Christopher Newport University before heading to Florida to participate in the RussMatt Invitational where they will play six games in six days including games against Sewanee (Mar. 18) and Rowan (Mar. 19). The team returns for an away game at Frostburg State University (Mar. 23) before hosting St. Mary's (Md.) College (Mar. 25) for a game and their first three-game NEAC series against Cazenovia College on Mar. 29-30. GU then travels to conference foe Lancaster Bible College for three games (Apr. 4-5), home against Washington College (Apr. 7) and back on the road for two NEAC series against SUNYIT (Apr. 12-13) and Penn St.-Berks (Apr. 18-19). The Bison come back to campus to host seven home games. That homestand is started with a single game against nationally ranked Salisbury University (Apr. 22) followed by NEAC series with Keuka (Apr. 26-27) and Penn St.-Abington (May 3-4). The NEAC tournament will run from May 9-11 at the site of the top seed.

"We have an extremely tough schedule this year, probably the toughest we have ever had," said Pride. "We play against at least four or five Top 30 teams in the country such as Salisbury, Christopher Newport and Shenandoah, just to name a few. These games will help prepare us for our conference schedule and hopefully the NEAC tournament and beyond."

Summary

Pride has a veteran laden team that has experienced winning a conference regular-season crown, hosting a NEAC tournament and been battled tested over the years.

"This is the most experienced team I have had since I started coaching at Gallaudet and I have high expectations," said Pride. "I expect my older players to provide strong leadership and be a positive influence on the younger guys."

In the end, the goals and expectations remain the same for the Gallaudet baseball program as they try to continue to build upon its recent success and make more history.

"Every year we have high expectations as always.  Obviously, our main goal is to win our conference tournament and get an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament this year," said Pride. "We just need to play solid defense and pitch well consistently. If we do that, then we have a good shot."

2014 Gallaudet Baseball Team